x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Cradle safety starts with inspections

The death of two window cleaners this week is a horrible reminder that more needs to be done, and urgently, to make such worksites safe.

On Tuesday, two window cleaners in Abu Dhabi plummeted to their death from 15 floors above the pavement. The men were trapped in a cleaning cradle for four hours after the motor controlling the device malfunctioned. Outraged at the slow pace of rescue efforts, investigators have rightly referred this case to the courts.

It will be some time before the men's families have answers and any criminal charges are settled. But this case highlights a broader problem of poor high-rise safety that demands immediate attention.

The National has reported with tragic frequency on cleaners or construction workers who fall from work sites or cradles. Yet although some progress has been made in recent years in terms of safety in the workplace, avoidable accidents continue.

For this reason authorities must step up measures to compel employers to ensure the safety of their workers. A culture of safety should be preceded by a system of safety, enforced through a set of laws and regulations that includes clear legislation on workplace responsibilities, liabilities, penalties, insurance and compensation.

That workers continue to be killed on the job too often results from a lack of responsibility on all sides. But the greatest responsibility lies with employers. Many workers arrive in the Emirates with little safety training, or perhaps no experience at all. It's not enough to provide harnesses for cleaners, safety belts for construction workers and masks for welders. The use of these devices must be enforced until it is second nature.

On cradle safety specifically, a lack of coordination between maintenance companies and regulators has left gaps in inspection regimes. Abu Dhabi law currently mandates inspection of cleaning cradles once or twice a year. Cradle makers say every three months is safer. Discrepancies like these must be reconciled.

Protecting workers at height is a continuing challenge for the UAE. Authorities have taken some measures to reduce the number of casualties, but it is not enough to deal with incidents on a case-by-case basis. A culture of safety, from recruitment to day-to-day supervision, must be nurtured. And that requires the full force of the law.